Wednesday, August 17

Our polar neighbours

Having regularly critiqued English weather in rather unsavory terms, it’s been fascinating to watch a “once in a generation” weather event unfold in New Zealand. The entire nation has been smothered by frigid polar air sweeping in from Antarctica. On Monday snow fell briefly in downtown Auckland, something last witnessed in 1939.

Weather historians say that the 1939 event dropped 5cm of snow on top of Mt Eden. Snow also fell in suburbs like Ponsonby, Remuera. In 1939 it also snowed at the lighthouse at the very top end of the North Island. There was also three hours of snow in Gisborne, while Banks Peninsula and Otago witnessed snow drifts up to 10 metres deep.

On this occasion snow didn’t settle in Auckland. However, the city did record its coldest temperature ever yesterday; a chilly 8.2°C. Snow also fell for two days in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Even the hills around Whangarei in Northland got a dusting. It also came as no surprise to read that a record load was recorded across the national power grid yesterday. Demand peaked at 7098MW shortly after 7.30am; the nation’s third such record in less than a month. It’s clearly been a very cold winter in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s weather was definitely a factor that encouraged me to migrate as an adult. I felt the cold every winter and hated every moment of it. Throughout my entire childhood I wore a winter uniform consisting of shorts and socks held up by garters. This meant that I'd find myself walking to school in the midst of winter across playing fields covered in thick, crunchy frost.

I also recall school being cancelled when more than an inch of snow fell in Dunedin. It only happened once, in 1973, but my brothers and I enjoyed a day building snowmen on the front lawn. My artwork melted overnight. However, my brother Hamish packed his snow so firmly it took almost a week for his iceman to disappear. Of course he now lives in Austria and enjoys permanent snow cover for almost six months of the year.

Meanwhile, Sydney was blessed with bursts of sunshine and afternoon high of 18°C last weekend.  However, our overnight temperature is forecast to drop to 8°C by Friday.  Maybe London weather wasn't all that bad.

PHOTO SOURCE: NZ Herald, August 17, 2011

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